do less, better

Day 14 of 30. I've received a lot of advice of the years from parents and teachers and mentors and friends, but one piece - this from one of my music teachers back in high school - sticks out to this day: do less, better.

We surround ourselves in distractions and urgent tasks and new initiatives, we look for the new shiny thing, we find a moment of extra time in our calendars and immediately fill it.

Let's do a little thought experiment. Write down everything you're doing right now: every project you're involved in, everything you've promised someone you'll get to, even the things at the edge of your mind that you'd like to get to and just can't find time for.

Now cut that list in half. You can rank and prioritise how you like, but you have to take half the items off the list.

What would it look like, feel like, to take the same amount of time you're using for all those tasks right now, and instead focus it on that remaining half?

A few months back, in the wake of an active summer vacation over in Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland, I got excited about helping out with Tugeny, a tournament-planning tool developed within the jugger community, and used by dozens of clubs (mostly around Germany). I felt rested from vacation, there seemed to be new gaps in my calendar, I love jugger and the jugger community, I'm a developer and have relevant skills - so why not?

Fast-forward a month or so. I was back at work, responsible for a new initiative there in the leadership team, ramping up on hiring, onboarding our new developer, shifting the team from open-ended discovery into more focused delivery. A lot of new tasks, ones I hadn't anticipated, some of my own choosing but many not.

I still tried to set time aside for Tugeny - but as a longstanding community project developed by (largely student) volunteers, the tech stack was a bit older, it was taking more time to set up than expected. I kept trying, and trying, and eventually I just had to say not right now, sorry to this thing I had been excited to help out on.

It was hard, but that opened up time and headspace to relax a bit more, which helped get through the surge of tasks at work, which in turn led to my workload feeling more manageable, less stress, more ability to focus, generally better mood, and so on. And that was just one task.

Since then, I've been aiming (mostly with success) to remain net initiative zero: that is, to start something new, I have to either finish or gracefully bow out of something else first.

Do less, better. It's taken me over 20 years from when I heard those words to properly internalise them, and even then I'm still working out how best to put them into practice.

It takes time, but it's time well spent. Maybe that blissful focused half-list state feels impossible. It won't happen overnight, but maybe there's a step you can take right now: something to say no to, something to get over the finish line.